Zoom, EAPs & Lockdown Love

5 October 2021

Popular wellbeing initiatives for Fulton Trotter have included Wellness Wednesday, a formal EAP, Zoom drinks, yoga and art classes, and a little ‘lockdown love’, says FT Director and Chair of the AMWF QLD/NT Justine Ebzery.

Fulton Trotter, 48 employees
Brisbane & Sydney

Does your practice have processes in place (formal or informal) to check on people’s mental wellbeing? How successful have these been?

We have always had informal processes in place, which typically involved team leaders and members looking out for each other and having a private chat if they were concerned about someone’s wellbeing. If needed, team members have escalated their concerns to their own team Director, our Practice Director or our Admin Coordinator who oversees HR.  Referrals were then made to external agencies for counselling if needed.

What support systems did you have in place pre-COVID?

We have always had a wonderful social club and staff who engage in activities. This included staff organising regular Friday lunches, a Tuesday night art group and a Wednesday yoga class. This has been a good way for staff to make friends, and have co-workers they trust and know will support them.

Have you implemented any new initiatives or strategies to improve wellbeing since the arrival of COVID in early 2020? What are they and how useful / successful have you found them?

When COVID lockdowns initially commenced in 2020, we began regular team Zoom check-ins, with many of our teams doing this daily. This gave a good gauge on how team members were feeling. In addition, we invited our team to participate in regular Friday Zoom drinks and created a range of Zoom chats for some ‘watercooler’ banter. Our Tuesday night art group moved to online Zoom and this allowed a greater number of people to participate. Our Wednesday yoga class also moved online. Our cross-office admin team meetings have included some online social activities such as dress ups and games.

We implemented a formal EAP in March 2021. Many of the staff have downloaded the app and have been utilising online resources. In addition, we have had staff anonymously access counselling services and some managers have accessed some executive coaching to improve soft skills.

With the recent prolonged lockdown our Sydney office initiated their own “Wellness Wednesday” activities, which they share on Zoom. Activities so far include sharing photographs on a theme and recreating famous artworks. Participation has been high and the very creative results have given the whole practice both inspiration and a few laughs. In addition, our Sydney team has also started online Jackbox Games in lieu of their face to face Friday drinks.

We also sent our team members working from home in NSW due to restrictions a little ‘lockdown love’ in the form of some architectural lego to give them a fun activity to do. Completed lego has been shared on our Zoom chat.

How have you communicated your policy, strategies and initiatives to employees? Have you rolled these out in formal meetings or training sessions, or informal catch-ups, for instance?

Our Employee Handbook outlines our policies. Staff are taken through this in detail during their induction when they first join our office.

New strategies or initiatives are communicated in a variety of formats including at staff meetings, invitations to webinars, posters on display in the office, links available on our office software landing page, and through the promotion of them by Directors or our EAP Ambassadors. As an example, the newly launched Australian AMWF version of the Architects Mental Wellbeing Toolkit was recently shared at our staff meeting.

Practice owners/Directors often neglect their own needs. How do your practice leaders take care of their own mental wellbeing?

We could improve in this area, but as a start Fulton Trotter encourages its Directors to take a holiday each year and have a break from the office.

Directors do not regularly work weekends or excessively long days.

Do you have any plans or ambitions for future initiatives to address mental wellbeing issues within your practice?

We are keen to fully utilise all aspects of our EAP as well as support where possible new initiatives that may be suggested by our team.

Looking back on these answers is also making me think it would be good to do something particularly focused on Director wellbeing soon.

What advice would you give to other practices based on your experiences so far?

Keep mental wellbeing on your practice agenda and regularly talk about it. Encourage your team to initiate programs that interest them, then have leaders who enable them to happen.